‘The Blue Zones’: how we can live longer and healthier lives!

19 December 2022

It is well known that physical activity can improve our health, but can we lengthen our lives through doing a specific type of activity?

Findings from the ‘Danish Twin Study’ suggest that only 20% of our lifespans are determined by our genetics, whereas 80% is influenced by our lifestyles. In 2004, Dan Buettner – fixated on finding these lifestyle factors contributing to longevity, came across ‘The 5 Blue Zones’.

A Blue Zone is a term given to a geographical place where people live the longest and happiest lives, with the lowest rates of chronic disease. Their healthy lifestyles are thought to be the reason for this. The five blue zones are:

  • Icaria, Greence
  • Loma Linda, USA
  • Nicoya Pennisula, Costa Rica
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Sardinia, Italy

It was established that people living in these blue zones share nine lifestyle habits, with one being their approach to physical activity. The health benefits of physical activity are well-established. However, people living in these blue zones view physical activity differently to most people. Instead of going to the gym or doing an intense workout, they implement natural movement throughout their day.

Dan Buettner, CEO of Blue Zones LLC: “The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. And they walk every single day. Almost everywhere.”

Therefore, using our opportunities for everyday movement can make us live longer. By walking to the shops, taking the stairs or just reminding ourselves to take regular breaks when sitting, can contribute to an increased Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).

NEAT refers to physical activity that isn’t exercise or a structured workout. People within the blue zones achieve a high NEAT through their emphasis on natural movements.

For example, the Ikarians in Greece keep physically active through gardening and in Okinawa, Tai-Chi is commonly practiced. Whereas Sardinian shepherds walk over 5 miles on mountainous terrain. Being aware of the different types of physical activity and opportunities for movement throughout the day is key. There are countless ways to benefit your health through physical activity!

Physical activity is more than ‘exercise’ or ‘sport’, it should be enjoyable for everyone. If exercise feels like a chore, then spreading your movement out across the ~112 waking hours of the week can be a great alternative! This doesn’t mean that we need to eliminate exercise, but it is important to understand the role of moving naturally too. At KiActiv®, we understand that all movement counts and is beneficial for your health!

The KiActiv® Team

Physical Activity doesn’t need to be strenuous to be effective

9 March 2020

There is a persistent myth that physical activity has to be strenuous to benefit our health. But this is simply not true, as the results of preliminary research presented last week at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2020 have shown.

“Finding a way to physically move more in an activity that suits your capabilities and is pleasurable is extremely important for all people, and especially for older people who may have risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Physical activities such as brisk walking can help manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol, improve glucose control among many benefits,” said Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D., past chair of both the American Heart Association’s Council on Physical Activity and Metabolism and the National Advocacy Committee, Director Of Preventive Cardiology And Cardiac Rehabilitation at Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, Michigan and Professor of Internal Medicine at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, Michigan.

The researchers used wearable activity monitors to measure the physical activity levels of 1262 participants who had an average age of 69-years (54% female). They found that those who spent at least 150 minutes a week in moderate to vigorous physical activity were 67% less likely to die of any cause than those who did less than 150 minutes of the same type of activity.

Importantly, the researchers showed that physical activity doesn’t need to be strenuous to be effective. Among the participants every 30-minute interval of light-intensity activity – such as housework or casual walking – was associated with a 20% lower risk of dying from any cause. And, conversely, every additional 30-minutes spent sedentary was related to a 32% higher risk of dying from any cause.

“Promoting light-intensity physical activity and reducing sedentary time may be a more practical alternative among older adults,” said Joowon Lee, Ph.D., a researcher at Boston University.

The results of a second preliminary study that was presented at the Scientific Sessions have also got some media attention. In this study of over 6000 women with an average age of 79.2-years, those who walked between 2100 and 4500 steps a day reduced their risk of dying from heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases by up to 38%, compared with women who walked less than 2100 steps a day.

However, there are major problems with using steps as a measure of physical activity. Not only do they fail to account for movement that is not manifested in steps, they ignore intensity and, when it comes to physical activity for health, wellbeing and fitness, intensity matters.

Taken together, these studies show that any type of movement has the potential to benefit your health and longevity. There are multiple dimensions that we can take advantage of to gain the innumerable benefits of physical activity. The personalised multidimensional physical activity profiles visualised in KiActiv®, created by our partners at the University of Bath, give you unique insight into your body and your lifestyle. They enhance understanding and inspire confidence to change and optimise your individual physical activity, so you can choose what types of physical activity you want to do to improve your health and longevity.

The KiActiv® Team

The truth about steps

9 February 2020

The 10,000 steps a day target is often mistaken as a magic number — the key to staving off disease caused by inactivity — when, in fact, it is a completely arbitrary number that originates from a successful marketing campaign in the mid-1960’s.

In an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company started selling the world’s first wearable step-counter called a manpo-kei, which literally translates to “10,000-step meter.”

“There wasn’t really any evidence for it at the time,” says Professor David Bassett, Head of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport Studies at the University of Tennessee. “They just felt that was a number that was indicative of an active lifestyle and should be healthy.”

And now, 54-years later, the threshold of 10,000 daily steps has still not been scientifically validated as a way to reduce disease risk.

Indeed, earlier this year, Mike Brannan, National Lead for Physical Activity at Public Health England said “There’s no health guidance that exists to back it [the 10,000 steps target] up.”

And, according to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Committee Scientific Report written for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there isn’t any published scientific evidence that looks at whether or not daily step count is related to your risk of dying from any cause or from cardiovascular disease. Only limited evidence relates steps to other health outcomes, such as a heart attack or stroke, or developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, the authors of this report couldn’t be sure that doing more steps reduces your risk of these diseases.

What no one seems to be asking is whether we should even be striving for a step target at all.

“There is no authority that recommends using steps as a proxy measure of physical activity.”

Professor Dylan Thompson, Director of Research at University of Bath

One of the major problems with counting steps is that intensity is ignored and when it comes to physical activity for health, wellbeing and fitness, intensity matters. So, you could be taking 10,000 slow, meandering steps a day, achieving the 10,000 steps target, but completely missing out on the numerous physical and mental health benefits you could be gaining.

Another problem is that step counting is far too narrow, failing to account for movement that is not manifested in steps. It is important to also understand that walking isn’t the only type of activity that benefits health – there are multiple dimensions that we can take advantage of to gain the innumerable benefits of physical activity. Focusing on one dimension, or one specific activity, like walking, creates a danger of developing a false picture of activity.

With physical inactivity reaching levels of global pandemic proportion, it is more important than ever that the public understand and follow science-based physical activity guidance. Many strategies to improve physical activity compel or prescribe, and the lack of personalisation has failed to deliver successful behaviour change in the context of individual disease risk or management. We know that physical activity is a behavioural medicine and free-living physical activity is most powerful when it’s personalised.

When people are given standard, non-personalised information about “one-size-fits-all” physical activity, behaviour change is moderate at best, and any gains are not sustained in the long-term. Providing contexualised data feedback across the full spectrum of physical activity promotes a comprehensive understanding of personal physical activity, which is integral to various scientific models of behaviour change and regulation.

We know that data loses its value if it doesn’t have any context. With an activity tracker alone, people can be unsure about how to use the data they’ve collected. Our unique, evidence-based and clinically proven KiActiv® method provides analysis in the context of health, in combination with two of the most complementary and potent ways of changing people’s physical activity behaviour, self-monitoring (observing and evaluating one’s behaviour) and goal setting. This makes the wearable data valuable and creates individual understanding that empowers authentic choice, which promotes effective behaviour change.

The KiActiv® Team

Keep rockin around the Christmas tree this festive season

20 December 2019

As the days on our advent calendars begin to countdown, there is a growing sense of excitement as Christmas draws ever closer. For many of us the build up to Christmas is one of the most exciting and busiest times, as we spend our time decorating the tree, cooking copious amounts of food, preparing our homes for waves of people and (quite often) doing last minute Christmas shopping.

It can be a common worry for people that their physical activity may drop off over this period due to the nature of Christmas and the indulgence brought with it. However, there are lots of ways in which you can keep up your activity levels over this time.

Heading out for a short walk can be a great way to combine physical activity with getting some fresh air which can help to improve your mood, as well as boosting your general health and wellbeing. It can also provide an active way of socialising with friends and family and an opportunity to break up the day’s festivities.

But, if you don’t feel this is for you, don’t worry. Walking is just one way we can move our bodies. There are many other kinds of physical activity that are equally as important for our health and wellbeing, so everyone can make the most of their movement in a way that suits them and their busy schedule.

There are infinite ways of being physically active as all the activities of everyday life can count. Whether it’s adding extra decorations to the Christmas tree, cooking a Christmas dinner, laying the table and carefully setting out Christmas crackers or generally moving more around the house – every movement matters and it can all count!

Physical activity is anything which gets our bodies moving and uses energy. The key is to find out what it is that counts for us – it’s likely that we’re all already doing something, we just need to find out what it is. Once we know what counts, we can choose what we want to do to optimise our physical activity and by choosing activities we enjoy, then we’re more likely to keep doing these over the festive period and into the New Year.

The opportunities to optimise our everyday physical activity over the festive period are endless, from Christmas shopping to dancing the night away on New Year’s Eve. With this in mind, we wish you a Happy and Active Christmas and New Year from all of us here at KiActiv®

The KiActiv® Team

Can wearable fitness trackers actually give an accurate estimate of VO_2 max

27 November 2019

We’re living in a world where advanced technology is becoming more and more accessible to the general public. Wearable fitness devices are now prominent on the consumer market and seem locked in a battle to outdo each other by providing all sorts of measurements obtained from a number of fancy sensors. Whilst the end goal remains consistent in that the device provides the consumer with a means of tracking their activity, many are now offering more complex readings in a bid to give the user unique insights and ultimately sell more units. Whilst this might sound appealing, we must consider the accuracy of these measurements to assess whether the outputs we are being shown carry any true value for the good of our health.

The Devices

Perhaps one of the more interesting claims made by a wearable on the market is that of the Garmin Forerunner 230 & 235 series. Each device utilises characteristic information from your user profile, such as height, weight and age, in combination with information collected whilst running such as heart rate, running distance, duration and pace to provide an estimate of individual VO2max. The G230 model uses a chest strap to accurately monitor heart rate, whilst the G235 uses an optical sensor within the wrist worn device to obtain a slightly less accurate heart rate measurement. The estimate is shown to the user alongside an estimated ‘fitness age’ based on this particular measure of cardio-respiratory fitness.

What is VO2max?

VO2max refers to the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise and is generally considered the gold standard measurement of an individual’s aerobic fitness level. It is closely and positively associated with athletic performance, longevity, health and well-being. Accurate assessment of VO2max usually involves an incremental exercise test to maximum capacity under laboratory conditions, which is both expensive and impractical for most people, so by providing an estimation in a free-living environment Garmin is attempting to make a very useful insight far more accessible to the wider population

Is it backed by the science?

As previously mentioned, before we take the device’s VO2max readings as gospel, it is important to consider the accuracy. One study compared the estimations produced by the G230, G235 and a third device with results from a gold standard VO2max test conducted in laboratory conditions. They found significant differences between the estimated VO2max from all devices and the measured VO2max. for male and female participants. The Garmin devices showed a tendency to underestimate VO2max. for female participants, whilst an overestimation was apparent for the male participants. A second study looked solely at the G235 and found that the watch underestimated VO2max compared to gold standard VO2max measurements, differing slightly from the first study, perhaps suggesting we should be cautious when making any inferences from this data.

So, despite many new wearables making bold claims about what they are capable of measuring, it is important to dig a little bit deeper into the underlying science before drawing any firm conclusions. The Garmin Forerunner wearables are likely capable of giving a ‘ballpark figure’ for VO2max, however when we consider the implications of the scientific literature, it might be wise to take this figure with a slight pinch of salt.

The KiActiv® Team

Brits spend nearly 3 times as long making tea than they do exercising

15 October 2019

Drinking tea has long been a staple part of everyday life, and one which has become deeply engrained in British culture. The UK tea association estimates a staggering 84% of the British population are regular tea drinkers, so it’s unsurprising that for many of us, we regularly take time out of our busy day to make a ‘cuppa’

A recent study by ukactive showed that, on average, Brits spend approximately 4 hours and 37 minutes each week making tea compared to only 1 hour and 36 minutes being physically active. This astonishing statistic equates to roughly 40 minutes per day making tea and only 14 minutes being physically active. This translates into 240 hours (10 days) of making tea and only 85 hours (3.5 days) spent being physically being active per year!

The gravity of these figures is huge, as physical activity is essential in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. As described by Sir Liam Donaldson “The potential benefits of physical activity to health are huge. If a medication existed which had a similar effect, it would be regarded as a wonder drug or a miracle cure.”

Despite people becoming more and more aware about the health benefits that physical activity brings, these figures show that our physical activity often gets left at the wayside. To put this problem into further perspective, results from the study also show that almost a third of British adults who work full time say that they cancel physical activity due to work commitments on a daily or weekly basis, and a quarter of respondents in the study were classed as physically inactive and get fewer than 30 minutes of moderate activity each week. This also includes 13% who stated that they didn’t partake in any activity at all.

In terms of how tea relates to activity, it serves as a good example that if we could incorporate some of our tea making time with activity, then how great of an impact it could have on our health over time. We’re not saying drink less tea, instead consider how beneficial a subtle change like spreading your kettle, mug and tea bags around the kitchen could have through simply making your body move that extra bit more when making your cup of tea.

Here at KiActiv® we promote physical activity through the message that every movement matters, shifting the focus from exercise/sport to all of the different types of activity which we do throughout our everyday lives. By using KiActiv®, individuals learn to make the most of their movement and are able to remain physically active in a sustainable way, simply through approaching physical activity in a more multidimensional manner.

The KiActiv® Team

Get on your bike! Why the ‘Active Travel’ Concept is failing to improve activity habits

30 August 2019

Recent figures published by the UK Department for Transport suggest that we are falling way short of targets set in 2013 to double the number of cycling trips taken per person by 2025. ‘Active Travel’ is regularly used as a buzz-phrase by government organisations to promote physical activity as a means of transport, yet too often, little information is given regarding how and why swapping the car for the bike or walking can be so beneficial for health. The simple fact that cycling accounted for just 2% of all journeys made in the UK last year despite heavy investment in new cycle lanes indicates the failure to convey the correct messages to the general public.

The reasons underlying this issue are clear. You cannot simply tell an individual to ‘get on your bike!’ without full consideration of various contextual factors. An interesting article posed the question as to why changing health behaviour at population level is so difficult.  It might seem obvious that physical activity will benefit your health, however the notion that this should merely be common sense is unlikely to promote sustained behaviour change. If this was the case, tobacco companies would have gone out of business as soon as we understood how harmful smoking is to our health.

Providing a clear, meaningful and easily understood rationale is the first step towards long-term change. Enabling individuals to gain a better understanding of the numerous physical, mental, social and, in this particular case, environmental benefits Active Travel carries will help empower them to make better decisions for the benefit of their health.

To truly understand why the Active Travel movement has failed in it’s attempts to increase physical activity levels, we must look to the preceding conditions. Whilst the benefits of physical activity are widely recognised, its true potential as an effective method of preventing and managing health conditions is yet to be truly appreciated. As Sir Liam Donaldson stated, “If it was medication, it would be regarded as a ‘wonder drug’,” so it remains to be understood why such a powerful tool is not promoted to the public in such a way.

Although we are slowly moving towards a society in which its vast potential is effectively utilised, more must be done to promote the ‘miracle cure’ benefits of physical activity at a population-wide level. We must look to both convey the correct message and empower individuals to self-manage their own physical activity to promote long-term sustained behaviour change.

It is essential to stress that Active Travel is only a single aspect of a healthy active lifestyle. Acknowledging the multi-dimensional nature of physical activity and the independent benefits to health related to each specific dimension is key. Although increasing Active Travel will help an individual reap benefits through achieving improved moderate activity levels and non-sedentary time, other benefits to health can still be gained through numerous other forms of regular activity. It is therefore important not to focus solely on the concept of Active Travel, but rather look to increase all types of activity across various domains in order to see the biggest health improvements.

The KiActiv® Team

Staying Active, Whatever the Weather

7 August 2019

The recent heatwave has got us thinking about how we can stay physically active whatever the unpredictable British weather throws at us. We all have at least one type of weather that we let stop us stepping outside and getting active, be it 37-degree sun, spontaneous torrential rain, or the snow in winter. And that’s okay!

Everyone is different and will be affected differently by the weather. The scorching heat this week might have made you want to stay indoors, but just think about all the movement you can do without leaving an air conditioned room! Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, “gardening” the house plants, or just generally moving around your house – it all counts! You could use this opportunity to go out for the day, perhaps somewhere that’s air conditioned, like a shopping centre, museum or art gallery. Or maybe you can’t get enough of this sunshine and you’re loving spending all your time outdoors… the important thing is finding what works the best for you.

Multidimensional physical activity provides the solution to unpredictable weather: choice. There are infinite ways of being physically active, since ALL the activities of everyday life can count. During periods like these where the weather may throw you off your normal routine, there is no need to worry. Each dimension of physical activity has independent benefits to your health, so if you find the weather is affecting your normal routine, start to think about how you could shift your focus. For example, you might focus on non-sedentary time instead of moderate bouts, if you are less able to get outside and do bouts of activity. You could focus on doing more light activity from activities around the house or breaking up those periods of sedentary time as often as you can. After all, regular trips to fill up your water bottle to stay hydrated is a good idea.

If you do want to embrace the sunshine, here are a few tips:

  • You could pick the times of the day where it’s a little cooler. Go for a walk or do some gardening in the morning, or the evening.
  • Mix it up. Do some activities indoors, and some activities outdoors, so you aren’t spending too long in the sun at once.
  • Listen to your body – you know how you’re feeling, pick the things that work for you.

Remember, you might not be able to control the weather, but you can always take control of your physical activity and feel the benefits to your health!

The KiActiv® Team

Is Pokémon Go the answer to the inactivity crisis?

10 August 2016

Pokémon Go has rapidly become a global phenomenon and it’s having a really positive side effect for some users – making them move more, thanks to the need for players to walk around in the real world in the hunt for Pokémon (you’ve #gottacatchemall).

Moving is crucial to the game – you need to move a prescribed distance to hatch any eggs you find (some require 10k of nurturing before they hatch). To catch different Pokémon, you have to go to spawning grounds, which tend to be in parks and other open spaces, and to get the items you need to catch Pokémon, you need to move from Pokestop to Pokestop.

Pokémon Go is neither a health app nor a fitness tracker. These tend to appeal to people who are already motivated to get healthy or to exercise – its appeal is far more wide reaching. And, it appears to have succeeded where physical activity interventions have failed, by motivating millions of people to be more active – they are so distracted by playing the game, they don’t even realise they are doing activity.

It’s great to see people getting up off the sofa, stepping away from their computers, and walking out into the real world, which can boost their chances of achieving the government’s physical activity guidelines (reports suggest that in the US users averaged 75-minutes of game play a day in the first week alone). This can only be a good thing, especially in light of new, compelling evidence published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, which suggests physical activity targets needs to be increased significantly if we want to reduce our risk of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and stroke.

Importantly, simply getting people to move more might not be having the impact on health we hope. For activity to “count”, it needs to be intense enough to burn at least 3 times the number of calories someone would burn if they were resting (i.e. 3METs or more), and for some health benefits, it needs to be done in blocks of 10-minutes or longer. So, wandering between Pokestops might not be intense enough for some people, for others, it might be fine. What’s more, we don’t know what impact the increased movement is having on other dimensions of activity – are players sitting more at other times because they’re tired from all this extra activity? We simply don’t know.

And, it’s long-term behaviour change that’s really needed to reduce risk of the serious, life-shortening diseases that are known to be linked with inactivity. And, like any craze, the popularity of Pokémon Go may already be starting to fade. It remains to be seen if people will sustain their new activity levels after they’ve stopped using the app.

In many cases, it’s unlikely given that the reason they are doing the activity will have been taken away – there will be no more Pokémon to catch and train. What’s more, they won’t know anymore about their activity than they did before they downloaded the app.

To promote effective behaviour change, KiActiv® programmes enhance individual understanding and inspire confidence to engage, motivate and empower authentic choice. And, of course, physical activity has multiple dimensions that we can take advantage of to gain the innumerable health benefits. So, each individual can choose what they want to do to optimise their physical activity and harness all of its protective properties. The key is to find out what “counts” for you.

Pokémon Go has inspired millions to get more active – now the challenge will be keeping people active long after Pikachu, Charizard and Mewtwo have faded from memory. And that’s our ultimate goal.

The KiActiv® Team

NHS’s £3.5M One You Campaign encourages Britons to change unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, but is there a better way?

7 March 2016

Today sees the launch of Public Health England’s One You campaign, the latest attempt to help us all make healthier choices and prevent us going on to develop the lifestyle diseases that are costing the NHS more than £11bn a year to treat.

People are asked to take a five minute quiz about key areas of their lifestyle before being given the results and advice about how to change the behaviours that are putting them at risk, like signing up to a slimming club or downloading a running app.

The sentiment is correct – we need to prevent diseases that are the result of unhealthy lifestyles, like type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Unfortunately, this campaign is unlikely to make any significant impact towards achieving this aim. In fact, critics have branded the campaign “patronising” and “hectoring”, warning that lecturing adults as if they were children will most likely prove ineffective and a waste of money.

Chris Snowdon, Institute of Economic Affairs Head of Lifestyle Economics, has been particularly damning of the campaign, saying: “It is astounding that this hectoring quango is squandering £3.5m promoting a tedious website that nobody will visit. Where there is nothing wrong with health education, there is very little that is educational about this patronising money pit. Even when they are explicating targeting middle-aged people, Public Health England cannot resist talking to us as if we were children.”

Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, is right when she says that “we all have the power to shape our future health by making simple small changes now.” But, to effectively change behaviour we need to engage, motivate and empower people to make their own choices – not tell them what to do. And that’s exactly what KiActiv® does – it powers the effective prescription of personalised ‘free-living’ physical activity for the prevention and treatment of lifestyle diseases.

As is almost always the case, the focus of the physical activity advice given in One You is on taking up sport and exercise, such as encouragement to go to a Zumba classes and linking to the NHS couch to 5k app download.

This, like many other campaigns, misses the point – there are different ways to harness the protective properties of physical activity because it has multiple independent biologically-important dimensions. Focusing on one dimension alone, like how many steps you take each day, creates a danger of developing a false picture of activity. Campaigns, like One You, should recognise that, as well as the oft stated reason for not being active – “I don’t have time” – many people really dislike exercise.

And that’s okay – you don’t have to exercise to gain benefits and prevent disease. There is no need to find time to squeeze a Zumba class or a run into an already busy life (unless you want to, of course) – anything that makes you move more and sit less will benefit your health. All those seemingly little movements can add up – the amount of everyday activity you get can easily add up to more minutes than a session at the gym. The key is finding what “counts” for you and deciding how you can fit more of these activities into your everyday life – that’s where KiActiv® comes in.

Find out how KiActiv® could help you in Our Solutions.

The KiActiv® Team

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